Strategy for a Decisive Decade

Conflict escalates between the German Foreign Ministry and Chancellery over Germany’s new China strategy: Baerbock opts for aggressive political attacks. Washington sabotages Germany’s business relations with China.

BERLIN/BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Own report) – While Germany’s new China strategy is being drafted, the dispute between the German foreign ministry and the chancellery is escalating over the intensity of the confrontation policy toward Beijing. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is pushing for maintaining a certain degree of economic cooperation despite the growing rivalry with the People’s Republic – in the interests of important branches of the German industry, which depend on China as a sales market and a research and development site. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is pushing for aggressive political attacks against Beijing – under the pretext of fighting for human rights. She does not even hesitate to publicly attack the chancellor, himself, while abroad. At the same, time, the USA is intensifying pressure in Berlin to scale back its economic cooperation with Beijing, interfering directly in concrete German-Chinese business deals. US President Biden sees a “decisive decade” ahead in the competition with China. In this context Berlin announced a new China strategy for the first quarter of 2023.

“No Decoupling”

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attacked particularly Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Beijing last Friday. Already prior to his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Scholz had reiterated that the People’s Republic should remain “an important business and trade partner for Germany and Europe.” “We do not want a decoupling from China,” the chancellor wrote in an op-ed in the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung.[1] At the same time he declared that Germany would “reduce its one-sided dependencies” on the People’s Republic in the future, for example in “important raw materials … or for certain technologies of the future.” This, in fact, coincides with the interests of German industry, which needs China not only as a sales market, but increasingly also as a site for research and development, while fearing to be bypassed and outpaced, in the long run, by their Chinese competitors. ( reported.[2]) Scholz also conceded that Beijing would be “playing an important role on the global stage – as it has been doing throughout much of world history.”

“Systemic Rivalry”

Prior to Scholz’s visit to Beijing, Baerbock had already taken a stand in opposition, criticizing the fact that the visit was taking place right after Xi had been confirmed as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party: “The Chancellor had chosen the timing of his trip,” complained the foreign minister during her trip to Uzbekistan.[3] For a member of the government to openly attack the head of government, while in a foreign country, is an unusual and conspicuous affront. Baerbock had also urged Scholz, in a tone of an ultimatum, that it is “crucial” that in China he communicates the coalition agreement “messages” – meaning sharp criticisms of human rights in China, instead of economic cooperation. This was accompanied by other demands from the ranks of the Greens and the CDU/CSU. Reinhard Bütikofer, an EU-parliamentarian of the Green Party was quoted saying that Scholz “should leave at home” the business delegation, accompanying him to China, and rather, during his talks, “explain to Xi Jingping what we mean by systemic rivalry.” Jens Spahn, along with Johann Wadephul, both Vice-Chairs of the CDU/CSU Bundestag group, found, that the “systemic rivalry” with China is growing, while “partnership” with that country is waning.[4]

No Sanctions Yet

Parallel to Scholz’s meeting in Beijing with Xi, Baerbock continued to attack the chancellor at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Münster. The foreign minister announced that the focus of the G7 talks revolved around the question of “how past mistakes in the policy toward Russia could be avoided in relationship to China.”[5] This is referring to the claim that the ambition of engaging Moscow through economic cooperation – for example with Nord Stream 2 – had been a mistake. On the contrary, the attempts at cooperation had been systematically subverted, not least of all, by the Greens. Baerbock’s statement was aimed at discrediting Scholz’s attempts at economic cooperation with Beijing. The German foreign minister also alleged that the People’s Republic has, “to a growing extent, become a systemic rival.” It is important that, in the future, clear limits be set. These statements are also significant, because the G7 is currently trying to reach an agreement on a coordinated China policy. The question of whether joint sanctions should be imposed on the People’s Republic, has “not yet” been discussed, it was said following the foreign ministers talks in Münster.[6]

“A Success for the USA”

It was reported that, while Baerbock was attacking Scholz, the United States was massively applying pressure on the German government. A senior US official of the Biden administration was quoted saying that Washington had passed “a message” on that China should not have a “controlling stake” in the Hamburg port.[7] The fact that a few days ago, the German government overturned a previous agreement between the Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) and the Chinese shipping company COSCO, permitting the latter only a 24.9 percent stake, rather than the previously agreed upon 35 percent in the Tollerort container terminal, was considered “a successful outcome” for US influence. “Increasingly, the question arises,” commented a recent article, “how much German-Chinese commercial cooperation is the western partner willing to tolerate.”[8]

“The Central Challenge”

US pressure is being increased at a time, when the US’ own political and economic attacks on China are intensifying. Already the National Security Strategy, published by the Biden administration on October 12, refers to the People’s Republic as “the only competitor” with “both the intent” to “reshape the international order” and, “the political economic, diplomatic, and military power to do it. Therefore, the USA must “out-compete” China.[9] Identical passages are also in the new National Defense Strategy, presented by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on October 27. Therein one reads, the People’s Republic is “the pacing challenge” for the United States.[10] Recently, US President Joe Biden declared that the next 10 years will be the “decisive decade” in which the USA will use all means at its disposal in its power struggle against China.[11]

Factional Dispute in Berlin

The US’ course-setting is of considerable significance for the German foreign ministry’s strategic policy toward China, currently in elaboration and due to be adopted by the federal government – if possible, already in the first quarter of 2023, immediately following the publication of Berlin’s new National Security Strategy. The precise formulation of the paper is being hotly disputed. While the chancellery seeks stronger consideration for the interests of German business, the Baerbock-led foreign ministry, is more oriented on the foreign, but especially, the military policy interests of the main ally, the USA. It “is not yet clear, whether the foreign ministry or the chancellery will prevail in setting the tone for Germany’s new policy toward China.”[12]


[1] Olaf Scholz: Für offenen und klaren Austausch. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.11.2022.

[2] See also The Dialectics of the China Business.

[3] Baerbock ermahnt Scholz zu kritischem Auftreten in Beijing. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02.11.2022.

[4] Jens Spahn, Johann Wadephul: Weg von einseitigen Abhängigkeiten. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02.11.2022.

[5], [6] Mathias Brüggmann: Baerbock sieht China als „systemischen Rivalen“ – Außenministerin grenzt sich von Scholz-Kurs ab. 03.11.2022.

[7] Courtney McBride: US Warns Germany, Other Allies Against Allowing Chinese Control of Firms. 02.11.2022.

[8] Druck von allen Seiten auf Scholz vor Chinareise. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 04.11.2022.

[9] National Security Strategy. Washington, October 2022. See also Playing with Fire (III).

[10] C. Todd Lopez: DOD Releases National Defense Strategy, Missile Defense, Nuclear Posture Reviews. 27.10.2022.

[11] Gordon Lubold, Charles Hutzler: U.S. Sees ‘Decisive Decade’ Ahead in Competition With China, Russia. 12.10.2022.

[12] Mathias Brüggmann: Baerbock sieht China als „systemischen Rivalen“ – Außenministerin grenzt sich von Scholz-Kurs ab. 03.11.2022.